New thrust to lift soil testing

TESTING: Project adviser Sean Mason of Agronomy Solutions is keen to know why growers do what they do when it comes to making decisions about fertiliser programs.
TESTING: Project adviser Sean Mason of Agronomy Solutions is keen to know why growers do what they do when it comes to making decisions about fertiliser programs.

Work is underway to provide grain growers in the southern cropping region with the confidence, knowledge and ability to make more effective and profitable nutrient management decisions.

A new Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) investment is focused on increasing growers’ use of soil and plant testing data to better inform their fertiliser decision-making.

The three-year investment, led by Agronomy Solutions in conjunction with Australian Precision Ag Laboratory (APAL), CSIRO, Landmark, Hart Field-Site Group and AgCommunicators, will develop an economic framework to quantify the likely returns from improved nutrient management techniques and the opportunity to boost farm profit while managing risk.

By 2022,  the GRDC aims to improve nutrient management best practice through the increased use of soil testing.

Leading the project on behalf of Agronomy Solutions is consultant Harm van Rees (project coordinator), who is being supported by research leader Sean Mason, of Agronomy Solutions.

Dr Mason says the project will begin with an initial economic analysis of soil and plant testing approaches – including aspects such as frequency, phase in the rotation, sampling intensity, soil depths and sampling in controlled traffic paddocks.

“There will also be a series of consultative focus groups this year, which will investigate grower attitudes and motivations, barriers to adoption and key extension and communication messages,” Dr Mason says.

“We are looking for feedback from a whole spectrum of growers – from those who base their fertiliser decisions on regular soil testing, those who have previously used soil tests but don’t anymore, growers who rely on recommendations from their advisers, through to those who have never used soil tests but instead adhere to an entrenched fertiliser regime.”

From here, an intensive, high-impact soil and plant testing demonstration program involving approximately 100 growers across the southern region will then be undertaken throughout 2019 and 2020.

Growers interested in improving fertiliser returns will be invited to participate in the program and those who do will be provided with subsidised soil sampling and analysis, interpretation of results and fertiliser recommendations for about six paddocks per grower each year.

At nutrient responsive sites, participating growers will be encouraged to instigate fertiliser test strips to illustrate responses, supported by plant tests. The impact on nutrient use efficiency and profit for each grower will be estimated and soil data will be compiled and trends across the region summarised each year.

Dr Mason says about 5000 soil profile samples will be collected each year which will include measuring at least 40,000 individual analytes annually through the two-year program. 

This will provide a useful snapshot of nutrient status and soil fertility, and could be used to highlight emerging issues such as soil acidity and declining organic matter.

The project will involve field days and crop walks, and further workshops to provide updated knowledge.